Ugh...Charlie Morton left an 0-2 sinker over the middle and Michael Bourn spanked it into center, just the man you don't want setting the table. But hey, three grounders later it didn't make any difference; Morton just kept on what he's been doing all year.
McCutch started off with a knock to left off Bud Norris, the 'Stros' strikeout machine. Like Morton, Norris kept on too, striking out two of the next three Buccos on his bread-and-butter slider.
Morton got two more grounders and then lost a guy to a walk thanks to a blown two-strike swing call. He came back to whiff the next hitter. Lyle Overbay celebrated by greeting Norris with a blast into the back row of the Clemente seats. Chris Snyder drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Norris got Brandon Wood swinging at another slider for the first out.
Ronny Cedeno rolled the first pitch into left for a single, followed by a Morton whiff; why he was swinging rather than bunting is a mystery. But McCutch made it academic when he drove a first-pitch heater off the wall in front of the bullpen to bring home a pair.
The Bucs tried to steal another run when Jose Tabata legged out an infield single and McCutch tried to come around to score. But a hesitation rounding the bag cost him; he was an easy out.
Morton struck out Norris and Bourn was retired trying to bunt his way aboard. Jason Bourgeois singled, and CM finished the frame by getting Hunter Pence on a bouncer. Three innings; seven ground outs and two K's.
Jones started of the third with a single to right and went into second when Pence mishandled the ball. Walker moved him to third, but Overbay, fishing at a pair of pitches well off the plate, whiffed; Snyder behind him was caught looking. The Bucs blew a couple of chances to add on; hopefully wasting them won't come back to bite them.
The way Morton is dealing so far, it doesn't look as if it will. He sat down Houston in order on a soft liner and a pair of K's. Norris retired the Bucs in order, notching his seventh whiff.
Morton was clean again in the fifth, and was sitting on a two hit shutout with five K's and just 66 pitches. Norris was hot too, putting the Bucs down 1-2-3 again.
CM was helped in the sixth by good leather, himself included. Bourn started off by doubling to left. The next batter, Bourgeois, hit one back to the box; Morton caught Bourn heading to third and he was nabbed in a rundown. It was a double ouch for the Astros; Bourgeois pulled his oblique running out the ball and had to leave the game.
Cedeno went airborne to snag a soft liner, and McCutch made a long run that was capped by a sliding catch to end the frame. The Bucs made some noise when a one-out hit-and-run single by Snyder put him and Walker on the corners, but Brandon Wood went after the first pitch and hit into an easy around-the-horn twin killing.
The lead hitter, Brett Wallace, reached when he rolled a single the opposite way. Morton got the next three guys without a sweat; Clint Barmes hit the only ball hard, and Tabata made the grab. The Bucs went quietly.
In the eighth, the Astros put the first hitter on for the third straight inning when Brian Bogusevich poked one into left. Bourn followed with a roller up the middle; Cedeno was there for the force, but his throw to first was wide and it would come back to cost the Pirates. With two outs, a broken bat looper into left followed by a soft grounder up the middle brought in a run and got Morton the hook.
Jose Veras took the hill and closed out the frame, getting a soft roller to second.
Morton went 7-2/3 innings, giving up one run on seven hits - three in his last inning - one walk and five K's. He mixed his pitches well today, was pitching ahead in the count, and threw perhaps his best game of the season.
More importantly, he was poised, making a couple of plays in the field effortlessly and shaking off Astro runners; he stranded seven. Last year, his strand rate was 53%; this year it's at 75%. He's now 4-1 with an ERA of 3.13.
The Bucs finally iced it in their half. Tabata walked on a 3-2 pitch against reliever Jose Valdez, a AAA call-up, and Walker singled an out later. It looked like another lost opportunity when Overbay whiffed, but Snyder kept it alive with a full count walk, taking a borderline curve for ball four.
Enerio del Rosario came on, and Wood dropped a double on the chalk in left on a 1-2 pitch to bring home a pair; Snyder scored quickly after that on a wild pitch when the pitcher missed the tag at home (and boy, would we love to see him and Adam LaRoche in a footrace.)
Hanny was heated up, but with the score 6-1, Daniel McCutchen came in to mop up. He gave up a single and got a K as the Bucs evened the series with a 6-1 win.
James McDonald will face JA Happ tomorrow in the rubber match at 1:35 PM.
-- The Pirates drew 32,299 for fireworks night and played a good game in front of a packed house. No rain, either.
-- Lacee Collins of Fox Sports talked to Clint Barmes before the game; he says that he sees a lot of similarities between the current Pirate core and the Rockie brat pack he was part of under Clint Hurdle.
-- Justin Verlander threw his second no-hitter today; he's one of 23 pitchers to have tossed multiple no-nos.
-- Happy belated birthday to Willie Mays. Say Hey turned 80 yesterday.